Children should memorize their times tables (and other duh! moments in teaching)

duh

The Globe and Mail’s editorial this weekend praised the governments of Ontario and Alberta for making the memorization of the multiplication tables part of the school curriculum.

And well they should.

As I have mentioned many times in this old blog of mine, I am not a fan of  “homework”; however, when I taught grades 4 and 5, I always sent the kids home with multiplication tables at the beginning of the year. I told them that if they could memorize their facts (up to 9×9) their lives would be sooooo much easier and happier that it would more than make up for the time they spent playing flash cards with mom or being quizzed by dad in the car. Once you know your multiplication facts, you know your division facts. Some kids need to spend extra time committing their addition and subtraction facts to memory (especially subtraction…this is often difficult for kids), but it’s worth it.

Students who don’t have their facts down by late elementary often struggle with all the other math concepts. You may know how to find the area of rectangle, but if you can’t multiply the two numbers that make up length by width quickly and accurately, you aren’t going to be able to solve the problem.

Once you have your basic facts locked away in the big file cabinet in your mind, you can move on to doing actual fun math things, like making graphs about who likes baseball vs. hockey (kids love that stuff) .  If you are still using your fingers to subtract seven from 15, it is going to take you a long time to figure out any multi-step math problems.

Of course I think it’s important for kids to understand what it means to multiply and divide and add and subtract. And, as teachers, we teach that. We start teaching that in pre-school and kindergarten with pictures and songs and hands on materials. Parents teach it every time they give their child an allowence or let them count the change in mom’s change purse.

But for pete’s sake.

6×7 = 42. It did when I was a kid. It did when you were a kid. It does now and it will continue to do so in the future.

No one needs to discover that or figure that out. Thank you. That’s been done. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Now…what is 8×4? 6×3? 5+2?

Go!

math 2Important exception to the rule: Everyone learns differently. With lots of practice and repetition, most kids will be able to memorize their facts. BUT some kids can’t memorize their facts due to problems with their working memory or a learning disability or the fact that they just learn differently. If you have tried and tried and tried to help your child memorize their facts but to no avail and now everyone is miserable and dissolves into tears every time the term ‘math’ is mentioned, invest in a nice slim calculator and teach your child how to work it quickly and accurately. Remediate until remediation has been proven ineffective and then compensate.

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Show Me How BIG Your Brave Is: Why Sara Barellis’ “Brave” should be our new national anthem

For a group of people who talk all day for a living, teachers are often a very silent bunch. We save our comments for the staff room and then grumble about how no one listens to our opinion.

Teachers across the United States are in crisis. Morale is at an all time low. Politicians are treating teachers like children who need to be monitored and disciplined with threats of job loss and salary reductions.

It’s disgraceful.

As a Canadian teacher, I know that we have it better than our friends to the south, but I can see us headed in that direction and it scares the hell out of me.

Business people with no links or background to education are being tapped by politicians to find ways to “fix” our education “crisis”.

Forgive me, but we are neither broken nor in a crisis. Yes, there are things we can improve upon. And guess what? Most of us know exactly what needs to be done. Most of us have multiple degrees in everything from child development to curriculum and evaluation. We do regular professional development on everything from reading and math to bullying and nutrition. We can help make things better. We need money and time to make positive changes, not outside “experts”.

But before we can help others, teachers need to find the courage to stop whispering and start speaking up. Our students want to look up to us. They want us to be role models. We need to model bravery so that they can grow up to be brave as well.

We live in a world where people overshare all the time. Videos and pictures that you might have once only shared with family and friends are now put on the internet for the world to comment on. But despite all of this new ‘openness‘,  I don’t think it’s made us any braver.

We still watch what we say and worry about what people will think, what they might say. What if someone doesn’t agree with me or doesn’t approve of what I say? What if they get mad at me? What IF not everyone likes me???

Guess what? The world will keep spinning. You will continue to breathe. Life will go on. And you will be better for having spoken your mind. The world will be better.

Being brave doesn’t mean you have to rescue a baby from a burning building. It could be as simple as standing up for a colleague when they are being harrassed or supporting a student when they need someone in their corner. Bravery often shows itself in simple acts of kindness.

I stopped watching music videos sometime after Michael Jackson’s Thriller because I have no interest in seeing women dance around half-dressed while men sing about degrading them. But this? Brave is the best video, the best song, the best…everything I have seen in a long time. 

It’s not deep or complicated or edgy. It’s just honest and true and fun.

If this song can’t be our new national anthem, let’s make it our new mantra.

Watch it, love it, live it.  I want to see you be brave.

“Brave”

You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up

Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just want to see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

Everybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
See you be brave

A Third Grade Teacher in North Carolina: What It Is Like To Teach in My State

suburbanprincessteacher:

A heart-breaking look at teaching in the U.S. I am deathly afraid that Canada is headed down this path.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

This third grade teacher responded to the post and comments about the heavy emphasis on testing students in third grade.

She wrote:

I thought that maybe a third grade teacher in NC should weigh in on this. I can only speak for what is occurring in my county, but here is what I am up against: I have to complete all reading 3D data within an approximate 2 week period. This involves a three minute fill in the blank test (whole class), three one minute timed reads with three one minute retells of each read, and a diagnosis of a students independent reading level by testing their reading, writing, and oral comprehension of leveled passages. The writing consists of two questions which are scored against a rubric and you must take the LOWER of the two scores. This must be completed on every student in my class.

In addition, our…

View original 1,105 more words

Get scared, then be brave – Why teachers need to step outside their comfort zones.

Last weekend I went skiing.

ski_fall

I always have a romanticized view of what my ski day will look like. I see myself gliding down the hill, smiling as I whoosh by the other skiers. Then lounging in the lodge with a cold drink looking wind-swept, yet healthy and robust.

Instead, my ski day often looks like it did this past weekend: stand in line for rentals while people cut in line in front of me, making me irritated and annoyed before I’ve even put on my boots.

Then, wait in line for what seems like forever before getting on the chair lift to take me to the top of the mountain, which suddenly seems humongous.

I start to panic the closer to the top I get and I’m terrified to get off the chair lift for fear that my poles will get stuck or that I’ll fall on my face or god forbid, get dragged back down the hill by my belt-loops.

My fear only escalates when I realize I have to go down the hill wearing these stupid toboggans on my feet. The entire time I am skiing, I am talking to myself, “You can do it. You can do it. Not going to die today. Nope. Not today.”

I am terrified probably 90% of the day when I am skiing.

I can only liken it to giving birth – it’s a horrible,messy,  terrifying experience, only made bearable by the exhilaration you feel when you finish successfully.

But despite my fears, I keep pushing myself to do it.

Why?do-one-thing-every-day

As adults, we rarely do things of our own free will that terrify us. We work very hard to build lives that are comfortable, that allow us to do things that we are good at, and we generally avoid those things that have not proven to be our strong suits.

Kids don’t have that option in school.

They are forced to take all subjects…whether they have an aptitude for them or not.

Reading is hard for you? Oh well! You better buckle down and just do it.

Math makes you break out into a cold sweat? Too bad! Everybody has to do math. Get a move on!

I think sometimes we, as teachers, forget that it’s hard to do things that are…well…hard.

When we force ourselves to do something outside of our comfort zone, I think it gives us a little more empathy and understanding for the child who is terrified of presenting in front of the class or the teen who refuses to read aloud because it’s just too embarrassing.

One time, when I was teaching English as a Second Language to university students who were almost unilingually French, I decided to take a French course.

Now, my French is…autrocious. It really is. It’s awful. But I took the course once a week at night and then during the day, I taught my French students English.

Understandably they did not want to speak aloud because they were afraid that others would make fun of their poor English.

So, one day, I stepped outside of my English-immersion-only philosophy, and I asked the students if they would help me with the oral presentation I had to do in French that night.

They all watched as I struggled to make it through my presentation. Some of them laughed (not maliciously, they just couldn’t help it…I was that bad), most winced, and some smiled encouragingly. When I was all done, they jumped on the opportunity to help me with my grammar and pronunciation.

The mood of the class changed after that day. My students saw that it was OK to make mistakes. They saw that I wasn’t perfect and that I certainly didn’t expect them to be either.

If we want our students to take risks, then we need to be prepared to do so ourselves.

So, take a Spanish class, ski down a hill, jump of a cliff (into the water, of course…don’t be an idiot). Take a chance. Risk looking silly.

Remember what it feels like to be scared

and then

be

brave.

How to Solve our Country’s Math “Problem”

The Globe and Mail recently featured a top fold, bold-font headline that screamed: “THE FIGHT TO SOLVE OUR MATH PROBLEM”!

I was disappointed to see there was no picture attached to this headline. I was hoping for a shot of an army of stern-looking math teachers, holding pencils and books, brought in by the government to get our kids back to basicsChicken-Little_Sky-is-Falling

The PISA results were released on December 4 and the hand-wringing and head-shaking began almost immediately. In case you hadn’t heard the earth-shattering news, our Canadian students dropped from 10th place in 2003 to 15th spot in 2012. The PISA is a survey (standardized test) of more 510,000 15-year-olds from 65 participating economies that focuses on mathematics.

John Manley, President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, ominously declared, ““This is on the scale of a national emergency.”

OMG! Call in the Math Army! This is worse than the ice storm of 1998!

So scary...just like our math scores. Hold me, John Manley.

So scary…just like our math scores. Hold me, John Manley.

Now, Mr. Manley, sir, I realize you are trying to help parents who want nothing more than to ensure that little Billy won’t be living in their basement (probably playing Call of Duty 16) when he’s 35. BUT, jeez Louise! It’s ONE test! Of 15-year-olds!

Don’t get me wrong. I love and respect 15-year-olds. My youngest child is 15-years-old. My other son was just recently 15.

I, myself (believe it or not), was once 15.

Priority#3 when I was 15. Cannot include picture of French boyfriend, who was priority #1, due to silly privacy laws.

Priority#3 when I was 15 – making sure I never ran out of Silver City Pink lipstick. Cannot include picture of French boyfriend, who was priority #1, due to silly privacy laws.

I remember being 15. Acing my math test was important, but it wasn’t my top priority.

I’m not saying the PISA results mean nothing. They do. They are a great snapshot of how our 15-year-olds are able to demonstrate some of their math understanding compared to kids the same age around the world.

But we teach so much more than math in our schools these days. We actually teach more than just academics. And this is the problem. We have too many things on our plate.

Let’s start with math, seeing as it’s a national emergency and all.

In my province, there are 7 strands of math that have to be covered over the course of the grade 4 year. These include everything from number sense to graphing to probability. Within each of these strands are a variety of specific outcomes. Each carries the same amount of weight on a report card. At last count there were 65 specific outcomes. If you are in grade 4, learning your multiplication facts up to 9 is 1 of those.

It’s not that teachers don’t know how to teach basic mathematical operations and number sense. (Trust me. We do. If I have to do one more in-service on how to teach multiplication, I will poke my eyes out with hot sticks.)

The problem is that there are sooooo many other things to teach that eventually you have to move on. If the kids don’t know their math facts, oh well, because now it’s time to teach them how to read a circle graph. With 65 outcomes to get through, there isn’t a lot of time for dilly-dallying.

And this overcrowded curriculum doesn’t apply just to math.

Schools today are expected to do the work that homes, churches and community groups did years ago.

SnapchatWe are now expected to teach children basic morality, like: thou shalt not post naked pictures of your classmate on the internet.

We are expected to feed kids who don’t get a proper breakfast at home.

We are somehow responsible for solving the childhood obesity problem, despite the fact that the government keeps cutting our phys.ed. programs.

There are even calls for schools to offer nature and gardening workshops (during school time) because children are not getting outdoor time when they get home. It appears their parents are incapable of prying their offspring’s little eyes of the screens and chubby fingers off the controllers and keyboards long enough for them to get outside and blow the stink off.

The tipping point for me occurred the other day when I heard a mother being interviewed on the radio. She was upset because her teenage daughter had gotten involved in prostitution. I was feeling sympathetic to her plight until she said, “The schools really need to be doing more to prevent this from happening.”

Seriously?!

SERIOUSLY?!!!

Let me see if I understand correctly…not only am I expected to teach reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, feed the hungry, and instil basic morality, but now you want me to put a stop to the world’s oldest profession?!

UNCLE!302_businessman_teacher_or_officeworker_surrendering_and_waving_the_white_flag

I’m waving the white flag.

#Just.can’t.do.it.all.anymore.

If the general public wants improved math scores, then we need to prioritize and delegate.

Families, community groups, and government organizations need to pick up the slack that our schools have slowly absorbed over the years.

The minute you start watering down a curriculum by adding in everything but the kitchen sink, you end up with a system that is mediocre at best.

The Asian schools that beat the pants off our kids in the PISA?

I guarantee you this: they are not spending their days talking about the dangers of SnapChat, while they pass out juice boxes and granola bars. They are doing kill and drill, all day long and then far into the night with tutors and special math schools.

Do I want their education system in my country? No. But don’t compare their math scores to mine, saying it’s apples to apples. If you want me to focus more on apples, just say the word. But you’ll need to get some of the other fruit out of my basket first.

are-you-smarter-300x225

A Grown-Up Report Card – How many A’s would YOU get?

report_card picImagine, if you will, that it’s a week before Christmas but instead of your head being filled with visions of sugarplums and rum and eggnog, you were pacing the floors worrying about your upcoming report card.

Yes, you. A grown-up. With a real grown-up job. Imagine that three times a year someone marked you and put their thoughts and opinions about you on paper for all to see.

“Oh,” you may say, “That happens to me. I get evaluated at my job all the time.”

Ah, yes. Your job. Presumably that thing you are good it. The thing that you chose to do for a career because you have some aptitude for it.

But what if you were evaluated on everything in your life? Not just the things you are good at but everything.

How do you think you would fare?

Report cards went home at my school this week. There was excitement and tears, joy and frustration. Some children were thrilled and others were terribly disappointed.  Teachers put a lot of effort into writing detailed, well-thought out comments, but those were often skimmed over, as parents and students zeroed in on the ABC or D.

Everyone has strengths and challenges. As adults, we have learned to stick with what we are good at and avoid our weak areas like the plague. Children don’t have this option. They have to be good at EVERYTHING. Art, science, math and writing. Sports, music, geography and reading. And if they aren’t? If they don’t get an A or a B on their report card? Sound the alarm bells!!! It’s a national crisis.

As adults, we don’t expect ourselves to be good at everything across the board, so why do we expect this from our children? Why can’t our  kids have strengths and challenges just like we do? If you were to get a report card right now, how do you think you would do? Check yourself against this list.

report card2THE ADULT REPORT CARD

Reading – Are you reading the classics and discussing them regularly and in-depth with your friends? A+! Or do you limit your reading to text messages and Star magazine? Poor effort. C for you.

reading_delicious_logo

Writing – Do you regularly write long stories with proper grammar and perfect spelling? Bravo! A for you. Is your writing limited to misspelled Facebook posts with no punctuation? So sad. You get a C.

MathHow are your budgeting skills? Do you pay off your bills regularly and never overspend (even at Christmas)? A again. Are you generally good but occasionally overspend on really, really nice boots? B, but with caution. Are you living paycheck to paycheck? It’s a D for you.

music_notes-1z5rh82MusicDo you play multiple instruments perfectly and with great gusto? Perfect marks for you. Do you sing off key to top 40 songs on the radio? Maybe a C. Try expanding your repertoire.

Art - Are you a Pinterest person with a houseful of crafty crafts? A+ for you! If you are more like me and all of your drawings involve stick people, sorry, you get a C.

Physical Education – Can you sink a basket, run a mile, and hit a ball? Are you a team player? The gym’s your thing! A+ If the only time you run is to catch the bus or get the last maple donut, you might need some remedial classes.

And don’t even get me started your behaviour! Are you nice to people? Not just the people you like but everyone? Are you helpful? Do you always get your work done on time? Are you kind, courteous and reliable?

We can’t all excel at everything. It’s just not possible. (Unless you’re Martha Stewart and even then, look what happened to her!) If your child brought home a report card, good or bad, or you just finished writing report cards, good and bad, make sure you put things in perspective. We are all gifted and we all struggle. It’s called  being human. And kids are just little humans. Let’s cut them some slack.

writing152

Teachable Moments, Compliments of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

writing143Any teacher worth their salt knows that teachable moments should never be passed up. If you are presented with the perfect opportunity to teach something important, grab it and run with it.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has offered up a number of teachable moments over the past few months and being the responsible teacher I am, I can’t let these pass by without comment.

Rob Ford, the infamous Mayor of Toronto (in case you’ve been living in a cave for the past few months) finally admitted to having smoked crack cocaine in the past year. He explained this ‘indiscretion’ away by saying he did it during one of his drunken stupors. Now he’s the talk of the town, the man of the hour, the Infamous Infidel.

As a comedian-in-waiting, I have been laughing along with the rest of the country at Rob Ford’s antics. The guy is comic gold! He’s Chris Farley and John Belushi (both dead from drug overdoses, BTW) all rolled into one. However, as a decent human being, my heart goes out to someone who is so obviously hurting.

In the words of the great Hanz and Franz, please, Mr. Mayor – hear me now, believe me later:

You, sir, are a human train wreck, a hot mess, a complete and absolute SNAFU.

I get it. I understand that sometimes it’s hard to put down the wine. I get it. Been there, done that. Luckily for me, none of my friends has felt the urge to videotape my antics and sell the footage to a national news outlet. (Note to friends: If you DO have videotape, please see me first. I have a suitcase full of cash with your name on it.)

Yeah, it sucks to Mayor.

Yeah, it sucks to be the Mayor.

 

But back to you, Rob.

Dude!!! You’re the Mayor! Of Hogtown! The Big Smoke! Canada’s biggest city!

What.the.hell.are.you.thinking???

Dr. Phil says, “Don’t tell somebody something they already know” but it doesn’t seem that you DO know. I’m no doctor, but it’s pretty obvious that you have health problems. Addiction issues, for sure. And one look at your sweaty, beet-red face and your Bad Santa profile and it’s obvious that your heart is working overtime. As a human being, I beg of you -stop. Take care of yourself. I don’t want your death on my conscience.

What? No response?

OK. I understand. You’re not ready to hear what I (or your friends or your colleagues on city council or the majority of the sane world, for that matter) have to say.

So, as the saying goes, If you can’t be a good example, at least be a dire warning.

writing144

  • First things first: don’t smoke crack. That’s it. Pretty straight-forward. I don’t care how wasted, overworked, or overweight you might feel, don’t smoke crack or take meth or shoot heroin or partake of any of those body-wasting, mind-destroying drugs. They will turn you into an idiot and make your teeth yucky.
  • If you have to start an explanation with, “Well, I might have done that but I don’t know because I was soooo wasted”? Well, then you have yourself a capital “P” PROBLEM.
  • Don’t hang out with drug lords, crime bosses or low-life crack dealers. If you spend time in the gutter, eventually you’ll crawl out covered in sewage.
  • If you happen to be related to idiots, criminals or morons, do not let them speak on your behalf.  Just to give a ‘random‘ example, if your sister is a former drug addict with connections to organized crime, it’s probably not a good idea to have her speak on your behalf. They call them ‘character’ witnesses for a reason. If your witness is of poor character, they will probably do you more harm than good.
  •  If you weigh 300+ pounds, it probably won’t do your heart any good to: A. smoke crack B. drink until you blackout C. work yourself into a state where you pace around the room threatening to kill people in ways previously only employed by vampires and psychopaths. Seriously. Your heart can’t handle that kind of stress. Try deep breathing, green tea and warm baths instead.
  • Prioritize your problems and deal with the most important ones first. Let’s say, for example, you are hanging out with drug dealers, smoking crack, drinking until you’re an even a bigger idiot than normal, and you’re obese. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say losing weight shouldn’t be your top priority (no matter what your mom says). I don’t think cutting back on carbs is going to improve your life situation. Prioritize. First, put down the bong. Second, put down the beer. Third, delete your drug dealer friends from your speed dial. Finally, when all of that is under control, you can take a look at your caloric intake. Priorities.

Jon Stewart said it best on his show on Nov 6 when he delivered a message to the people of Toronto, ““I heard that your Mayor Ford’s approval ratings went up after it came out that he smoked crack. You know what that makes you as a city, Toronto? Enablers, eh? Now let me ask you a question, ‘Are you waiting for this man to hit rock bottom?’ . . . Mayor Ford’s a lot of fun to ridicule, but my guess is not a lot of fun to eulogize and that’s where this thing’s headed. And even though I will lose precious material, please go to rehab.”

So, kids? To summarize?

Crack, bad.

Getting so drunk and messed up that you ask the POLICE to release a video they say shows you smoking crack so that you can see how MESSED UP YOU REALLY WERE???

Really, really bad.

Ask for help. Get help. Accept help.

Your life depends on it.

Most up-to-date information on the Mayor Ford debacle (as of Nov 8).

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